Skip to main content

Full text of "The Gay Genius"

See other formats


POET OF THE RED CLIFF                     303

the ground and when they lift up their heads to look at the moon, they
feel thoroughly enchanted with the evening and begin to sing by turns,
reach singing one stanza. Then someone says: "How shall we do justice
to such a night as this? It's so perfect and we are company to each
'other, but where shall we get food and wine?" One of them says:
"I caught some fish this evening—they have fine scales and big mouths,
like the perch of Sungkiang. Ah, but how shall we get wine?" Su
Tungpo decides to turn back to cajole his wife into producing some
wine for them, which is always a wifely accomplishment. To their
delight, his wife tells them that there are a few gallons in the house
which have been kept for a long time. The company then, carrying
the wine and fish, take a boat to spend the night under the Red Cliff
igain. The water level has fallen greatly, showing many rocks above
the water, while the Red Cliff appears very high on the bank. The
scenery has changed so much in a few months that Su can hardly
recognise it. Inspired by the night, Su Tungpo asks his friends to
climb -up the Red Cliff with him, but the friends decline and Su goes
up alone. Tucking in his gown and picking his way among the under-
brush and brambles, he climbs to the very top, where he knows two
ravens make their nest Standing on top of the rock, he holloas into
the night so that his voice resounds from the surrounding mountains.
Suddenly he has an unsubstantial feeling of not knowing where he is,
^d, seized with a sense of grief, he feels he must not remain there
ong. He comes down, steps into the boat again, and they set off and
Het it drift with the current.

It is about midnight, and all is silent around them. Two lone storks
appear in the east, flying with their white wings spread like fairies in
white garments. The birds cry out and pass westward directly over
their boat, and Su wonders what that omen means. Soon they go home,
and he goes to bed and has a dream. In the dream he sees two Taoist
priests dressed in the feather dress of immortals. They recognise him,
and ask him if he enjoyed the night voyage under the Red Cliff. Su
asks them their names, but they do not reply. "Ah, I know,*' says
Su Tungpo. **! saw you flying tonight over our heads! Wasn't it you
who made a cry when you passed over our boat?" The Taoists smile,
^gnd Su wakes from his sleep. He goes to open the door and finds
nothing there except the bare street and silence.

Su Tungpo's method of establishing an atmosphere, as seen in this
sketch, was to suggest another world, a dream world of Taoist im-
mortals (of which the stork was a conventional symbol), and so con-
fuse the reader that he did not know what plane of existence Su was
describing. According to Chinese belief, our present human life is
merely a temporary form of existence upon this earth, and though we
may not be aware of it, we may have been fairies ourselves in our